We chat to the young pioneer who started the poke scene across Asia as Singapore gets its first taste of the unique dish from Hawaii.
If you think Pololi is just another eatery riding the poke wave in Singapore, think again. After struggling to find fresh seafood options in Hong Kong, Entrepreneur Steph Kudus founded Pololi in 2014, launching what was to become the first poke chain in Asia.
Having dominated the poke scene in Hong Kong for the past 3 years, some may say Steph sparked the current craze. Unknown to most people, Steph was born and raised in Singapore so this sunny island was naturally the next city for Pololi to expand to.
A Hawaiian dish that originated 50 years ago, Poke (pronounced ‘poh-kay’) traditionally consists of fresh raw seafood, chopped into cubes and marinated.
A treat for those who are health conscious, Pololi’s poke bowl packs a healthy punch of protein that comes in two sizes, which can be served with a side of brown rice, white rice, salad, or any combination of the above. In order to ensure freshness, poke is prepared in small batches, which the crew creates more of as they run out. While poke seems simple, Pololi keeps things fresh by constantly inventing and creating new flavours, which are rotated daily. With more than 20 flavours in the chef’s books, innovation is important as the team sets aside days to create new recipes and try out flavours. An example of their innovation is their new sambal flavour, created especially for Singaporean taste buds.
While poke can seem simple, Pololi keeps things fresh by constantly inventing and creating new flavours, which are rotated daily. With more than 20 flavours in the chef’s books, innovation is important as the team sets aside days to create new recipes and try out flavours. An example of their innovation is their new flavour especially for Singaporean tastebuds: sambal.
Curious to find out more about the story behind Pololi, their exotic flavours and how they stay on its toes to keep things fresh, we chat with Steph to learn more.
As you were the first Poke Chain to open in Hong Kong, were there any huge setbacks on where you started?
Spending 6 years in investment banking taught me to be ready for any uphill battle and never give up, so introducing Hong Kong to a completely foreign dish and start a new trend in Asia was not a problem.
However, education and embracing the Aloha spirit was key for us since day one. At Pololi, we take pride in introducing what Pololi is and what Hawaiian poke is to every single customer who walks through our door. We take time to understand each customer’s preferences or if they’ve got any allergies before recommending new flavours for them to try.
The Singapore Poke market is already quite saturated; how do you set yourself apart from other chains? Were there challenges in opening the Singapore branch vs. the Hong Kong branch?
Being the first poke chain in Asia, we can’t possibly be the only ones forever. I’m happy to see that the demand for poke has grown, and more and more people are being exposed to it.
I believe the thing that sets us apart – beyond our commitment to tradition and quality -is the fact that everyone on the team continues to share their passion for good food and proud to be part of the Pololi Ohana!
Where do you get your flavour inspiration from?
As poke means to slice or to cut, we can be as creative as we want. Apart from traditional Hawaiian poke flavours, I draw inspiration from my travels or my visits to wet markets, supermarkets, spice shops, etc.
I’m working on a new ma-la flavour, which is inspired by my latest trip to Sichuan, China, and also perfecting my lonumirus (chilli paste), which I learned how to make on my live-abroad in the Maldives. Together with my team, we then do several taste tests before we find the perfect balance, which could take several weeks to months.
To be honest, I’ve got way too many favourite flavours! You can’t fault me for loving my creations, but if I had to pick I would say the traditional spicy and spicy mayo are the ones I eat the most, as it reminds me of Hawaii. I also love our Thai spicy because it reminds me of my short stint in Thailand, where I backpacked for half a year.
With its bright clean lines and its open air concept, Pololi is an oasis of calm in the CBD area. It’s time to get your poke on.
Find them here!
Address: 01-06A, 51 Telok Ayer St, Singapore 048441
Tel:+65 6909 0589